Introduction to the Crusaders
The Crusaders are a group of musicians who are distinctively versatile — having their roots in jazz, they eventually embraced other genres such as soul and funk. Originally as the Jazz Crusaders, in 1971, they changed their name to just The Crusaders. The Crusaders attained crossover appeal as some of their singles began to creep into the pop charts. In 1975 founding member Henderson left the band to become a full-time producer, marking a large void in the band’s overall sound. Their most successful single they’ve ever scored was 1979’s “Street Life,” which took a spot on the Top 40, but it was also their last successful output. Drummer and original member Stix Hooper also withdrew from the band, further affecting the band’s sound. By the 1990s, the Crusaders had gradually disbanded. Original members Henderson and Wilton Felder as well as Crusaders guitarist Larry Carlton revived the name “Jazz Crusaders” to release a handful of recordings from the mid to late 1990s. Some members of the Crusaders have made occasional reunions since.
From the Jazz Crusaders to just The Crusaders
The Crusaders’ roots began in Houston, Texas in the early 1960s. The band was originally playing jazz in the early days, hence calling themselves as “The Jazz Crusaders.” Founding members Joe Sample, Stix Hooper, Wilton Felder and Wayne Henderson had been to other groups The Swingsters and Nite Hawks. The Jazz Crusaders then moved to Los Angeles where they got signed to Pacific Jazz Records, where they cut records throughout the 1960s.
The band’s basic roots lay in jazz and hard bop with hints of Memphis soul and R&B. Their front-line horn section (consisiting of trombone and tenor saxophone) formed the group’s trademark sound. By the 1970s the band took on a funkier approach to jazz music, leading to be called now just as The Crusaders. They also employed two more members Robert “Pop” Powell and Larry Carlton as the band also added bass and electric guitar to their instrumentation.
As they changed their musical approach, the Crusaders began to establish their crossover appeal along the way. This appeal also slowly translated into smatterings of minor positions on the Billboard pop chart, such as “Put It Where You Want It” (from the 1972 album Crusaders 1) and “Scratch” (from the 1974 album Scratch)
Henderson left in 1975 to pursue a full-time career as a producer, resulting in a radical change of the band’s musical style.
“Street Life” LP and single
The Crusaders reached the peak of commercial success in 1979 through their LP Street Life. The album reached #18 on the Billboard 200 (pop) album chart and #3 on the R&B album chart. It also topped the Billboard jazz albums chart as well.
Street Life‘s title track was written by Joe Sample and Will Jennings, and featured singer Randy Crawford. “Street Life” went to #36 on the Billboard Hot 100, and #5 on the UK singles chart. It also charted at #75 dance and #17 R&B.
The band’s later career
Unfortunately, Street Life‘s success was also the Crusaders’ last hurrah. Drummer and original member Stix Hooper withdrew from the Crusaders in the early 1980s, thus the band’s quality sound began to decline; nevertheless the group continued to release albums. By the 1990s, the Crusaders had dissolved for the most part, leaving behind an exhaustive discography. Joe Sample pursued a successful solo career following the disintegration.
Henderson, Felder and Carlton reunited in 1995 to release an album entitled Happy Again, reviving their old moniker Jazz Crusaders, against Sample’s objections. In 2003, it was Sample’s turn to revive the Crusaders name along with his old mates Felder and Hooper; together they released an album called Rural Revival, whose guest artists included Ray Parker Jr. and Eric Clapton. In 2010, Sample, Felder, Henderson made a reunion tour along with a group of other musicians that included Sample’s own son Nicklas, who is a bassist. That same year they released Rural Renewal, whose guest musicians included Ray Parker Jr. and Eric Clapton.
Of all the individual careers of the Crusaders’ members, only Joe Sample has enjoyed a comparatively strong solo career.
Wayne Henderson passed away in April 2014.